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Judge sides with judicial council

Judge orders continued funding for courts in event of shutdown

Judge Bruce Christopherson has ruled that the judicial branch will stay open for business in the event of a state government shutdown at the end of the month.

In a ruling signed this afternoon Christopherson, who is retired and was appointed by state supreme court chief justice Lorie Gildea to hear the case, decided that the closure of the judicial branch would result in the “irreparable violation” of many rights guaranteed to Minnesotans in the state’s Constitution.

The judicial council asked for a separate order for temporary funding from the one prepared by Gov. Mark Dayton. The Attorney General’s Office argued on behalf of the council yesterday. At the hearing Nate Brennaman, an attorney for the AG, argued that the failure of two branches of government—the executive and the legislative—to reach a budget accord should not wipe out a third, co-equal branch. He said that it was within the judge’s authority to order a temporary funding order.

“The judiciary has the inherent power to preserve its own existence when reasonable procedures have failed,” he said.

The courts protect citizens’ rights and the benefits provided to them through the constitution. Without a functioning courts system, the state would be violating many constitutional rights of its citizens, Brennaman argued.

Four Republican state senators tried to block the judicial council’s order and pointed to Article XI of the state constitution that reads, “No money shall be paid out of the treasury of this state except in pursuance of an appropriation by law.”

Fritz Knaak, a lawyer for the four senators, argued that without an appropriations bill approving spending for the courts, all operations must stop.

“Here I ‘m before you to remind you that what is being proposed is brazenly unconstitutional,” he said.

Judge Christopherson said that in this case there are provisions in the constitution that seem to be irreconcilable, but said it was job to harmonize the opposite points.

In the end he concluded that safety and protection won out over Article XI.

“The rigidity of Article XI when traditional processes of government have failed must temporarily five way to the safety and protection of Minnesotans,” he wrote.

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